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{11/07/2012}   A country pub revelation

               On Monday night, a friend and I met for dinner at a pub we spent our late teens and early 20s frequenting on Friday nights, The Ringlestone Inn.  It’s a largely unspoilt ye olde 16th century rural pub, complete with log fires (marshmallows to toast in winter) and oozing history through its beams, flooring and wood panelling (it was a hospice for monks along The Pilgrims’ Way and soon after became, and continues to be, an ale establishment).  The revelation was that country pubs I’ve been to of late (and I mean proper country pubs, ie not even in a village, just in the middle of nowhere) have served over-priced, sub-standard food and not been quite the idyll I had had in mind.

               Admittedly, we had unwittingly arranged to meet on Monday Steak Night and we both fancied steak.  The meat was very good and the chips and, what I had, the cubed herby roast potatoes were clearly hand cut and cooked to order.  It was a really tasty meal.  We didn’t look at starters, but we did check out desserts.  They were all £6 and, if you read the menu carefully, mostly frozen, seemingly along the Arctic Roll lines.  For example there was a Lemon Meringue Cake, boasting an ice cream filling or layer or some such.  There was a Tiramisu … Ice Cream Cake.  Wrong.  We decided against pudding, not that either of us were hungry.

So we thought we’d have a hot drink.  £3 (though I have just seen on the online menu that some drinks are £2.50, the espresso for example.  There were three types of coffee, no coffee machine in sight, including cappuccino.  There may have been a coffee machine, I just didn’t see it.  As my friend and I can no longer cope with the late night tea or coffee drinking sessions of sober times in our youth, my friend asked if they served decaffeinated coffee.  It was enthusiastically established they did indeed.  On further questioning, my friend having clocked the lack of coffee-making equipment, we discovered it was instant, “It is Nescafe though.”  Oh, that’s all right then, is it?  For £3 (but it might have been £2.50).  I know I’m a coffee snob but, really, it’s not that hard to make a filter coffee at least for that price.  So we ordered a cup of hot water with a teabag.  For £3.  I know I sound like angry old woman but I object to paying that much for tea, let alone a sachet of Bisto-tasting instant coffee.

Despite my moans, we had a lovely evening, it is a lovely pub and the main meal was very good.  Everything has become more expensive and pubs are closing at a distressing rate so have to do whatever they can.  I understand that.  But I don’t like feeling ripped off and it doesn’t make me want to go back, at least not to eat or drink anything other than beer or fruit wine.

I have been to a few country pubs over the last year or two and all of them have disappointed on some scale, food being my main issue.  I guess there’s a lesson there: pubs are for drinking beer and snacking in (mmm, it’s only ever in a pub that I eat Scampi Fries!); hot drinks and fancy desserts are a no-no.  The other thing I’ve noticed is that all of them have seemed too quiet, except for Sunday lunch.  I guess people aren’t going out as much and, for those who do fancy a pub, it’s more likely to be one you can walk to or get to easily rather than one you need to drive to.  But if there were a really good one less than an hour from me to drive to, I’d go back.  Because there is something so wonderfully British and postcard-like about sitting in an old countryside pub, drinking a pint and chowing down on a doorstep sandwich, a ploughman’s lunch or, say, a nice pie, perhaps eaten in a large beer garden or inside with a coal fire burning.  Ahhh, yes, I might have to do some research, though I’m not entirely convinced they still exist or have been recreated.

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